Mule Trader

Mule Trader: Ray Lum's Tales of Horses, Mules, and Men

With a Foreword by Eudora Welty
Copyright Date: 1992
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  • Book Info
    Mule Trader
    Book Description:

    Readers captivated by this book will be happy that Bill Ferris found Ray Lum and that he thought to turn on a tape recorder. Lum (1891-1977) was a mule skinner, a livestock trader, an auctioneer, and an American original.

    This delightful book, first published in 1992 asYou Live and Learn. Then You Die and Forget It All, preserves Lum's colorful folk dialect and captures the essence of this one-of-a-kind figure who seems to have stepped full-blooded from the pages of Mark Twain. This riveting tale-spinner was tall, heavy-set, and full of body rhythm as he talked. In his special world, he was famous for trading, for tale-telling, and for common-sense lessons that had made him a savvy bargainer and a shrewd businessman. His home and his auction barn were in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where mules were his main interest, but in trading he fanned out over twenty states and even into Mexico. A west Texas newspaper reported his fame this way, "He is known all over cow country for his honest, fair dealing and gentlemanly attitude. . . .A letter addressed to him anywhere in Texas probably would be delivered."

    Over several years, Ferris recorded Lum's many long conversations that detail livestock auctioneering, cheery memories of rustic Deep South culture, and a philosophy of life that is grounded in good horse sense. Even among the most spellbinding talkers, Lum is a standout both for what he has to say and for the way he says it. Ferris's lucky, protracted encounters with him turn out to be the best of good fortune for everybody.

    eISBN: 978-1-4968-0295-8
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Eudora Welty

    Ray Lum was a Mississippi mule trader and a remarkable man. William Ferris has brought this book into being in the only possible way—by ear. That’s the way Ray Lum had been telling it to him. Mr. Lum was above all a talker, listening to the way his tale went, keeping the ring true as he proceeded. His life as a mule trader and auctioneer, his stock in trade, his private well-being, his reputation—all were gathered in, all would find expression in his tales. They speak to the source of his pleasure in the world, and in this,...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    William Ferris
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Ray Lum was a famed southern storyteller and livestock trader who was born several miles from my home on the Big Black River sixteen miles southeast of Vicksburg, Mississippi. As a child, I imagined Lum must have arrived in the world full blown and talking. When I visited his livestock auction barn in Vicksburg the pungent smell of animals and the sound of his booming voice made deep impressions. He traded mules and horses with three generations of my family, from the 1920s to 1977, and his humorous tales were told and retold in our home.

    Long after horses and...

  6. School Days
    (pp. 11-26)

    I was born in an old log cabin June the twenty-fifth in eighteen ninety-one, down at the old post office where my grandmother lived. The old building still sits there. All the old pecan trees are still there. I believe they are. We lived in the Scutchelo Hills out from Rocky Springs where I stayed with my grandmother, and milked eight cows every morning. I remember at six I was a pretty good hand at milking. Grandma had sixteen little stragglers like me, and we was just like orphans.

    My grandmother would put the butter down into this cistern. I...

  7. Dog Days
    (pp. 27-68)

    When I was twelve years old, my daddy moved us to Vicksburg. There was nine children, and my father’s health wasn’t good. So we kids all went to work, and I got me a job selling papers at two dollars a week.

    Papa decided that I should go to school. I went to the Catholic Brothers and made arrangements for the Brothers to teach me at night. They charged two dollars a month for teaching me, but I worked at Holerfield’s Grocery for two dollars a week, so I was all right there.

    Brother Roberts was my teacher. I’ll never...

  8. Up and Down That Dog
    (pp. 69-102)

    The Delta was a booming place for mules in the ’thirties. If you didn’t have mules, you wasn’t in the farming business. Those farmers bought them by the hundreds. Some good farmers had a barn that would hold fifteen hundred mules, and they’d ring a big farm bell every morning to call the men to work.

    Every town in the Delta had a mule barn and a livery stable. They looked to me and Red Nelson, another trader, to supply them with mules. Red brought most of his mules out of Missouri, and mine come from Texas. The Nelsons and...

  9. Rattlesnakes, Coyotes, and Wild Horses
    (pp. 103-148)

    When I left Memphis in ’twenty-two, I went to auctioneering for Mr. Yount who owned a barn in Fort Worth. He was getting a good many miles on his speedometer, and I did most of his selling.

    I shipped stock all over Texas. Harry Barnett and I come to Texas together and was partners. Harry never did leave the city, which was pretty smart. Wadn’t no use to get out in the country, ’cause the city was where the stock came to be sold, don’t you know. I anchored89all over because I had men selling all over. There wadn’t...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. Eighty Thousand Horses
    (pp. 149-170)

    One day I ran into Mr. Chappell. He had more horses than anybody in the world. He says, “Ray, what will you give me for eighty thousand horses in La Plant, South Dakota?”

    “I’ll give you ten a head for them.”

    “I’m going to sell them to you.”

    He got an Indian from that part of the country to go with me, and we lit out that night. In two days we was in La Plant and went to gathering horses. I remember the first thing I done, I gathered a hundred mules that was with them horses. I sent...

  12. When Mules Played Out
    (pp. 171-216)

    When mules played out, I started bringing in registered bulls. The first registered bull in Mississippi was Point Compass, and he was owned by a man in Jackson named Davis. He brought that Hereford bull to Vicksburg and showed him off in the hotel lobby. The bull died, and his offspring played out. Ten years went by, and there wadn’t no Hereford cattle in Mississippi. They played out. So I began to bring Herefords in. I took up where Mr. Davis left off, and this country’s never been without Herefords since.

    I had my first sales here at Vicksburg. When...

  13. Letters
    (pp. 217-224)

    7/17-50 Mon night

    Dear Mother & Sonny,

    Came in here this morning and attended the sale. Bought 9 bulls. Already had 4 here. Sent them to Stephenville to sell Wed. Will go to Abilene tomorrow. Looked at a Mr. Trimble’s cattle this evening after sale. Didn’t trade with him. Called Mr. Hughes. Nice chat. No business. Haven’t heard a word from Red. Didn’t get him when I called. He was out. I think these bulls will make little money at Stephenville if I don’t get orders for them. Bought 2 Reg. Angus Bulls today and Reg. Angus heifer. My car is...

  14. Bibliographic Essay
    (pp. 225-238)
  15. Endnotes
    (pp. 239-252)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-254)